Is it time for the CMO role to be rebranded?

It is imperative marketing becomes more accountable. And that means adding data and technology to the role of the CMO, argues Happy Marketer's Prantik Mazumdar

When we launched Happy Marketer in June 2009, our motto was to make marketers happy. We realised that most of them in the fraternity were quite insecure and vulnerable about their roles and prospects, especially during what was then the ongoing economic downturn.

Prantik Mazumdar

When companies were slashing costs, marketing and advertising was the first to be cut. It was a classic signal that the function of marketing was not perceived as accountable or impactful. This was the key reason for a marketer’s insecurity and unhappiness.

Mike Linton, ex-CMO at eBay said in a Forbes article that “It’s no secret that the CMO position is perhaps the least secure job in top management, with a turnover rate that’s faster than major league managers, but slower than that among quick service restaurant employees.”

The declining trend of the average tenure of CMOs globally substantiates this point. A study conducted by executive search firm Spencer Stuart of 100 of the top US ad spenders found that the average tenure for marketing czars fell to 42 months in 2016, down from 44 months in 2015. To put that into perspective, average CEO and CFO tenures stand at 7.2 years and 5.7 years respectively.

A quick glance at a Google Ngram of the different senior executive roles would further help establish a popularity and demand trend over time. Most of these roles started becoming popular post-World War II, with the CMO role gaining traction in the 1980s and 1990s but thereafter it has been a downward trajectory. The contrast against CTOs and CIOs is rather stark.

Now that it is no secret that CMO tenures are getting shorter and the role has been losing prominence and clout.

The key question that needs to be asked is why?

Is the marketing function not critical to businesses and if they are, what do CMOs need to do differently to evolve and ensure that they still have a seat in the C-Suite?

One of the key challenges with the traditional marketing function is that while it drives many company initiatives and activities, it does very little to measure and attribute the impact of those on the top or bottom line of the P&L statement.

Most marketers focus on brand building through advertising, PR and content marketing without evaluating the impact. This is evident from the usual metrics a CMO and their team focuses on in terms of awareness, engagement and brand uplift. While these are good to have, many in the C-suite would consider them “noise,” “flaky,” “vanity” and would tend to rightfully ask “so, what?”

Very few CMOs are trained to leverage data and technology to focus on the middle and bottom of the marketing funnel to answer critical questions like:

  • How has the awareness and engagement driven lead generation or footfall?
  • How can I qualify and nurture my leads to improve sales?
  • What is my cost per lead or acquisition and how can I lower that?
  • What channels are driving better quality leads and what is the return on marketing investments on those channels?
  • Can marketing efforts drive customer loyalty to reduce churn and increase the customer life-cycle value?

This lack of focus on the right metrics and the failure to establish attribution leads to the popular notion that marketing is all about driving creative campaigns to shape public perception. But one is never certain if those initiatives drive business results.

To add to that, unlike most of the other CXO roles, the CMO’s efforts are visible in the public domain and hence open for scrutiny from everyone within and outside the organisation.

What doesn’t help the cause is that given the same discomfort with data and technology, CMOs have not been able to own and drive the digital transformation agenda. It is still an open debate as to whether CMOs, CTOs or CIOs should own this piece in full or part.

A few recent trends tend to suggest that many organisations are considering evolving the CMO function into what is being touted as the Chief Growth Officer (CGO), a role that is an amalgamation of the CMO and the CTO functions and is made in charge of the ‘mar-tech’ stack – a combination of technology, people and processes that aims to make marketing scalable and accountable.

The CGO is expected to leverage mar-tech to drive corporate growth through digital transformation and improve the customer experience across all the touchpoints of a customer’s journey.

Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Colgate-Palmolive and Coty are among the early adopters of the CGO phenomenon. While it sounds like a new role – many suggest it is the death knell for the CMO – it is more of an evolution of sorts for the CMO and an opportunity for them to grow into a position of strength through accountability.

At an intuitive level, we all know that marketing is a critical business function. Now, it is time to validate and prove that intuition through data and technology. Be it the new CMO/CTO-turned CGO or existing CMOs, it is imperative for them to transform the marketing discipline into something that drives business growth through a strategy that incorporates scale, efficiency, automation and personalisation.

The true test of whether CMOs will succeed in evolving will be evident in the next economic downturn when businesses are forced to cut costs.

If marketing survives and the declining tenure of the CMOs can be reversed, the marketing fraternity would have done its job and would be a happier bunch.

Prantik Mazumdar is the managing partner at digital marketing agency Happy Marketer


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